Off-Season Training: How Much Break Should I Take?
Updated: Nov 4
When we take on a new triathlete, it’s always a goal to help make triathlon part of their lifestyle. Not an extra “thing” on their plate, but something that naturally fits in with everything else... that you eventually end up not just having to do, but needing. So, it would make sense that triathlon training span 11 months, rather than 9 or 6 months of seasonal activity like some other sports. You should fundamentally love jumping in a pool or on a bike to be successful, because to improve, you‘ve got to stick with it.
However, if you‘ve done a focused season of training and racing, you probably need a break, both physically and mentally. I’m very strict about a taking 3-4 weeks off after an Ironman so for those athletes, it usually works out with the timing of their break for the year (also why I’m not keen on amateur athletes doing more than one a year). For athletes after a long short course season, 2-4 weeks completely off triathlon training is good mentally and physically. Take a break from your coach (!) and let your body repair. However, this doesn’t mean stopping all activity during this time. Go play tennis 3 days a week for a month. Go to the gym and play on the machines you’ve never tried before. This can be harder for some than others, because let’s face it you have few friends outside of triathlon, and some of them will be in a different phase. So, it might be tempting to take your bike out on the weekend. Try resisting this and you might just find yourself coming back hungrier and more refreshed after some forced deprivation of triathlon-specific activities.
Once you’ve taken your complete break, “winter” or “off-season” training kicks in. This involves a period of mental and physical refreshing, while also building fitness toward your summer goals. While you can create exact phases and a composition of annual periodization with your coach, here’s a couple of basic ways this training differs from “in-season” training:
1) Slowly build volume as you’re coming back from next to nothing
2) Emphasize more peripheral things like resistance training, max speed and technique
3) Work on your weakest sport
4) Stay away from mentally and physically exhausting threshold workouts. [The off-season track workouts we do with our tri club are a perfect example of the type of thing I apply to all three sports. We don’t do any pure 400m or 1 mile repeats that we sometimes do in race season. Instead, we do drills, some strength stuff and still get plenty of running in, including some intensity short in duration and with plenty of rest.]
5) Change your scenery! If you’re predominantly a roadrunner, go get out on some trails. Don’t take your TT bike on the course of your “A” race… there’s plenty of time for that later. Explore some new places and this will help your motivation and longevity in the sport.
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